Gudrun Ensslin (August 15 1940 – October 18 1977) was a founder of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), the most famous German terrorist group. After becoming romantically involved with co-founder Andreas Baader, Ensslin was influential in the radicalization of Baader's leftist beliefs and the intellectual head of the RAF.
Ensslin was born in the German village of Bartholomä, the fourth of seven children. Her father, Helmut Ensslin, was a pastor of the Evangelical Church in Germany, also known as EKD. Ensslin was a stereotypical good girl, who did well at school and enjoyed reading the Bible. In her family, the social injustices of the world were often discussed and Gudrun is said to have been sensitized to social problems in West-Germany and the world as a whole.
At the age of eighteen, Gudrun got the chance to spend a year in the United States of America, where she attended a high school in Pennsylvania. After high school, Gudrun went to study philosophy, Anglistics and Germanistics, where she met Bernward Vesper, a left-wing German. Together with two other students, Ensslin and Vesper started a small business, a publishing house called Studio neue Literatur. At this time, Ensslin also tried to become a teacher, but her skills were only 'adequate', which demotivated her.
In 1965 Gudrun and Bernward married and went to West-Berlin, where Gudrun worked on a doctorate at the Free University. In West-Berlin, they demonstrated against the Bomb and the presence of American military bases.
In May of 1967, Ensslin gave birth to a son, Felix Robert. The marriage between Ensslin and Vesper was doing badly however, and Ensslin became engrossed in the prevailing leftist culture.
In June of 1967 Ensslin participated in political protests against the Shah of Iran, who was visiting Germany at the time. Though the Shah was viewed by governments in the West as a reformer, his regime was known to be brutal against political opponents, and the state police force (SAVAK) was believed to routinely torture prisoners.
Fights broke out between pro-Shah and anti-Shah factions on the Shah's arrival. A young man by the name of Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the back of the head by a police officer. (The terrorist organisation known as the Movement 2 June, which would become allied to the RAF, was named after this event.) The next night, Gudrun Ensslin angrily denounced West Germany as a fascist state at a leftist meeting.
The police officer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was charged with manslaughter and acquitted of the charge on November 23, 1967 causing a public outrage. Things cooled down however, and this enraged Ensslin. She left her husband and her child in January 1968 and with Andreas Baader, whom she had met in the Summer of '67, she decided to actively fight "the system". On the night of April 2 1968 two fires broke out in two department stores in Frankfurt. Baader, Ensslin, Thorwald Proll and Horst Söhnlein were arrested three days later, and in October 1968 were sentences to three years in prison. They were released pending a revison in June 1969, but fled when the revision was dismissed. Baader was arrested on April 3, 1970. Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, who was at that time a well-known leftist journalist, and two other women freed him on May 14, 1970. One person was shot. This was the beginning of the so-called "armed fight" and the RAF. Ensslin became, with the others, the most wanted person in Germany. She was arrested in a boutique June 8th, 1972 in Hamburg.
Several attempts to free her from prison, through hostage-taking from symphatizers and so-called members of the 2nd generation of the RAF, failed. The last was the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer on September 5, 1977, and when this failed to work, the kidnapping of Lufthansa airplane "Landshut" by the PFLP on October 17. When the airplane was stormed by a German anti-terror commando, Schleyer was killed, and Ensslin was found hanging in her cell early in the morning of October 18. Officially, her death was ruled a suicide, however, spread by symphatizers and Irmgard Möller, the only surviving RAF member imprisoned in Stammheim rumors persist that the deaths had been extrajudicial killings.
For the events around the kidnapping of Schleyer and the Landshut, see also German Autumn.